Current Trends - Britney Spears' Conservatorship - Episode 4
Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners -- This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Today’s topic is a current trend … my goal in this rotating topic is to chat and discuss something going on in current time, that is pertinent to my world.
Soooo … would you believe me if I told you today we’re talking about Britney Spears? I’m sure you’re wondering how on Earth my world and Britney Spears’ world collide.
Back in 2007, there were a few incidents involving Britney, that caused many to question her behavior. She was recently divorced from a gentleman named Kevin Federline …and in the divorce, she unfortunately lost custody of their two children.
One of her very-public stunts was when she made national, dare I say worldwide, headlines for shaving her head. According to an article in Cosmopolitan magazine, Britney showed up to the hair salon after leaving a rehab clinic, she had stopped by the home of Federline’s house to see their children – he refused and that’s when she headed to the salon. She asked the hairdresser to shave her head, the hairdresser tried to convince her not to do it – but right when the hair dresser turned around, Britney grabbed the clippers and started shaving her head.
This incident, among a few other headline-making things she did, was the reason in 2008, Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, petitioned the California Court to become her conservator. So, that’s how it relates to my little world – a conservatorship is when a Judge appoints someone to be in charge of someone else’s finances AND/OR health care decisions. Here, in good ol’ Indiana, we call a conservatorship – GUARDIANSHIP.
Over the years, Britney (and her lawyer) have attempted different tactics to alter or modify the conservatorship – just recently in November 2020, Britney and her lawyer requested that Britney’s father be removed as a conservator – though, the Judge declined her request and Jamie, Britney’s father, remains Britney’s conservator – BUT the Judge did agree to appoint a co-conservator, Bessemer Trust, which is what Britney and her lawyer had requested as a “back-up” in case they would not agree to remove Jamie, her father, as the conservator.
In December 2020, a Judge extended the conservatorship until September 2021, which of course is soon (we are recording this in mid-2021). So just think about this, the conservatorship has been intact from 2008 and will continue until at least September of this year (2021). Could be longer.
To explain this, here in Indiana, once a guardianship is established, it’s not set-in-stone, forever sort of thing – we have to do routine reports to the Court to provide updates about the person, their finances, their whereabouts, and ultimately we request that the guardianship remain intact for reasons A,B, and C. That sounds like what is going on with Britney’s conservatorship – it remains “active” because there has to be a strong showing of why the conservatorship is NO LONGER needed. Regardless of all our personal opinions, for whatever reason, the Judge/the Court thinks (so far at least!) the conservatorship should remain active.
If you’ve followed Britney’s conservatorship at all, or even just heard mumblings of it, you’ve probably heard of the #FREEBRITNEY movement – many fans have come to her “defense” to support her and put pressure on the situation to end the conservatorship. In early 2021, a documentary was released called “Framing Britney Spears” that made headlines – it was about her hard work, dedication to the music industry, and her rise to fame. Following the documentary’s release, many celebrities also vocalized support for Britney … calling what she went through as a child and adult “gut wrenching” and “heart-breaking” to watch.
Just in April 2021, Britney (through her lawyer) requested to “speak for herself in Court” and do so “as soon as possible.” This marked a momentous event – she’s rarely publicly talked about the conservatorship. The hearing occurred on June 23rd, 2021.What she vocalized at that hearing shocked the world – she provided several examples of why she feels she no longer needs a conservator – which of course has ignited the #FREEBRITNEY movement.
Following the hearing, it must have put pressure on some people that were near and dear to her – or at least close to her (whether SHE thinks they’re near and dear may or may not be!). For example, her manager, Larry Rudolph, resigned. According to TMZ, he said he and Britney had not communicated in the prior 2.5 years – and he has heard that Britney has expressed a desire, an intention to officially and formally retire from the music business.
Also following the hearing, according to New York Times, (I think Britney speaking at the June 23rd hearing really paid off for her!), her Court-appointed lawyer, Samuel Ingham III, who had represented her for a very long time, asked to resign – as did Bessemer Trust (that was the firm the Court appointed to serve as Co-Conservator with Jamie, Britney’s father). Both resignations were granted, and after a few more Court filings, the Judge approved Britney to pick her own lawyer (instead of them appointing one for her).
And she did just that. She has ended up hiring Mathew Rosengart, an attorney who is a former federal prosecutor (which is pretty cool!) and has made a name for himself representing various celebrities. It has been said that he is going to attempt to very-aggressively attempt to get the conservatorship terminated.
Just recently at another hearing, Britney, with Mr. Rosengart by her side (I believe, virtually), read another statement to the Court – she shared that the “conservatorship had ruined her life” and requested yet again that her father be removed as conservator and actually even wants her father charged with abusing his role. Holy cow – them’s fighting words!
That’s, sort of, where we are as of mid-late July when I’m recording this episode. I’ve already had to update/re-record this episode once because SO MUCH has happened since I recorded the episode the first time. We’ll just have to see how things play out from this point in time…
So, how do conservatorships and guardianships fit into my little estate world? Well, as a reminder, here in Indiana – we call them guardianships and we CERTAINLY don’t see them done for celebrities – but where we do commonly see them is in two situations. First, we help clients gain guardianship over children who may have special needs – and with turning 18, the child becomes, legally speaking, an adult. So sometimes, kiddos who are about to turn 18, the parents (or whoever may be the proposed legal guardian) want to maintain being the child’s decision-maker … and a guardianship is the legal procedure to make that happen.
Second, we help clients gain guardianship over aging adults, who may be experiencing significant cognitive impairment – think, advanced dementia, Alzheimers, etc. – where the person, due to their cognitive impairment, need further assistance with decision-making. Oftentimes, we see this become a thing IF the person does NOT have a Power of Attorney in place -or- perhaps their Power of Attorney is not “strong” enough and the person trying to help with decisions is hitting roadblocks.
If we are looking at obtaining guardianship over someone, it’s worth quickly noting the process. Like so many have learned through Britney’s story, it’s a COURT process – which means individuals hire an attorney to assist them through the proceeding – it involves a lot of paperwork, a hearing, and ultimately the Judge decides whether the proposed Guardian is an appropriate and suitable person to make decisions for the person.
Beyond that, there are two, let’s call them types, of guardianship – the Guardian can be the Guardian of the “person” and secondly, can be the Guardian of the “estate.” Guardian of the “person” means you have the authority to make decisions about the “person” – so think like health care decisions, where the person should reside, attend school, etc. Now, Guardian of the “estate” means you have the authority to make decisions about the persons “financial affairs” – for this, think applying for governmental benefits, accessing bank and financial accounts, working with financial professionals and tax professionals, etc.
So yeah! Britney Spears’ Dad has quite a bit of power and authority over Britney, huh! (For example, something Britney mentioned at the infamous June 23rd, 2021 hearing was that Jamie, her Dad, forced her to utilize birth control!)
We will see how things play out – there’s, of course, opinions everywhere. Many think she does not need a Conservator anymore – others think she does. If you were anything like me, I had heard about Britney Spears’ conservatorship, but didn’t really have any idea how it came about, why it’s still active, who’s controlling what, etc. Now I do! And I hope you do too!
Next week’s topic is on estate planning of the rich and the famous – celebrity estate planning mishaps, misfortunes, and mistakes – This time I’ll be discussing Anna Nicole Smith. Well maybe more Anna Nicole Smith’s much-older husband – what happened when he passed and Anna was still living … and it took so long, that the litigation was still active when Anna herself passed away. Stay tuned – it’ll be a good one!
Until next time, Legal Tea Listeners…talk to you then!